on 27 September 2006
I felt compelled to write a review of this book after reading the ones already submitted below. I know that enjoyment of a book is personal to the reader, but I was surprised to find that there were so few positive reviews. The Child In Time is one of my favourite books of all time and certainly my favourite of the novels by McEwan that I have read. I disagree with the opinions that only parents, couples and politicians will enjoy or get anything from this book - I first read it for my A Level in English Literature (i.e. as a 17 year old student) and loved it, and have since re-read it at age 25 and loved it even more because now I'm older - albeit still childless and still not a politician - I have been able to gain more meaning from it and discover new levels to it.
For me, the best thing about this book is the quality of the writing. I find when reading The Child In Time that I can visualise perfectly the scenes and empathise with the feelings McEwan describes, despite having never experienced the trauma of losing a child, the break-up of my marriage or witnessing a friend's mental breakdown. That to me is the mark of a top-class writer. I felt that the characters were utterly believable, and although the plot may not be action-packed from start to finish I liked that about it because somehow that makes it more starkly realistic.
Anyway, as I said at the beginning of this review, I know everyone who reads The Child In Time will feel differently about it, and just because I love it doesn't mean you will. The reviews below just seem overall to be negative about this book and I wanted to speak out in favour of a book that I feel is beautifully written and ultimately uplifting.
on 22 November 2006
Like the previous reviewer I feel compelled to counter some of the criticism levelled at 'The Child In Time', a novel I believe to be one of Ian McEwan's finest.
The novel follows a narrative trajectory that is common to many of McEwan's works: one significant - and in this case highly tragic - event leads to a period of disintegration and an exploration of themes.
In 'The Child In Time' a virtuosity of interwoven storylines all centre on the protagonist Stephen Lewis, and offer a deep exploration of the nature of the personal and the private. These two worlds are juxtaposed brilliantly, and with great subtlety. Stephen is presented as father, children's author, member of a government committee on childcare and friend. As in 'Saturday' there are lengthy passages involved with the minutaie of professional life - in this case Whitehall - but perhaps some of the political machinations become more relevant to the reader when viewed as embodiments of the Government stance on childcare, and the more self-centred ideology of the time. It is wrong to criticise the book on account of these sections seeming 'dull' or 'irrelevant' as has been the case below, as they are all part of the common theme of the novel; whether political life is relevant to the reader or not should not matter when it is the nature of time and childhood that is in fact being discussed. This is relevant to us all.
Further weight is given to McEwan's premise in the contrast of the rural and the urban; the rural embodying the return to the private self, the public world of city life presented as a complacent treadmill of government reports, noise and people.
Whereas a novel like 'Enduring Love' cannot live up to its infamous opening passage, 'The Child In Time' has a sense of balance that is hard to find in many modern novels. Whilst certainly not a traditional closure, the unity and proportion of the novel is nigh-on perfect. Whilst it may be a novel of Ideas, and for the most part follows the protagonist's masculine emotional bluntness, it is also by the end profoundly moving. A spine-tingling climax to a genuinely brilliant novel.
on 29 May 2001
'The Child In Time' was my first exposure to McEwan, and despite some reservations, led me to reading the rest of his novels and short stories. The child of the title is not one individual but many, and it is the parallels between childhood and adulthood, sanity and madness, portrayed through a number of 'childhoods', both literal and figurative which makes the book work on a number of levels. The main plot concerns Steven's attempts to find his lost daughter, to accept his loss and to salvage his crumbling marriage. Along the way he is drawn back into his own childhood in a sequence of incidents, often therapeutic, at times unhealthy and downright disturbing, where he is forced into examining both his relationship with his parents, and himself as an individual and as a parent. Throughout the process there is the cautionary figure of Charles Darke, a man denied childhood and regressing in his middle age, and the forays of both into politics, with its own bizarre parent-child structures.
The book manages to depict all of this, with realistic, fully formed and yet novel characters, whilst also commenting on British life as it was and as it could have been in a matter of years. As well as the ridiculous workings of politics and spin, the effects of television and the press are shown and the world of publishing is represented by Darke. In this way, McEwan evokes a whole credible environment that supports his points.
My main criticism of the novel is McEwan's tendency towards the sentimental, and in particular his conventional and less than realistic views of men (as active) and women (passive), which undermines the richness and scope of humanity that is such an asset in this tale. I would say this is something evident in his novels as a whole.
There are other novels which treat the theme of lost children ('Ghost Children' by Sue Townsend is a recent attempt) but fail to pack as much meaning into their pages or draw as many conclusions as McEwan does in this enjoyable, original and stimulating book.
on 5 December 1999
The finest book by Ian Mcewan I have ever read. The attention to detail on every page gives this novel an extra dimension, and Mcewan has dedicated so much thought to this book that it makes your mind spin. Parts of this are liable to change your life, you will find yourself drawn into Stephen's life and as a consequence you suffer as much as he does. Brilliant and utterly absorbing.
on 9 August 2014
I first read this in A Level English some two decades ago. It was one of those unusual books which I came to love and enjoy more through reading, rereading, studying, taking apart and writing essays over: there are precious few books I could spend two years studying in depth and come out still able and willing to read it for pleasure. There's some truly beautiful, almost elegiac prose in here that still moves me. I think it's a fairly unpopular opinion, but I much prefer it to the lauded Atonement.
That said, I'm sure it's not for everyone. There are elements of what I'm tempted to call magical realism, the book is set in a London which is slightly off kilter, there are strange time jumps and interconnected stories and... well, it's not a book I'd recommend for a mindless read on a long plane flight, or to anyone who didn't have the patience for a more meandering and demanding read. There is also the simple fact that the main thread through the story is the abduction of a three year old child and the havoc that wreaks on the lives of her parents, which I know makes it a "can't read, won't read" for some. It's also not a thriller or a page turner.
What it is, is an interesting, thoughtful, thought provoking book that held me captive as a seventeen year old and can still do so nearly twenty years later. It's not for everyone, and I definitely feel it's one of those books where the "look inside"/sample functions reeeeeally come into their own, but it is IMO definitely worth the time to download that sample.
on 10 January 2013
I read this for my book club and out of five of us only two of us liked it. It starts off quite dull and unpromising, but if you can get into it and start to accept the academic style, then it is very well written and I really enjoyed it. I devoured it in three sittings and loved that the ending is not a Hollywood style saccharine story but a true-to-life, honest ending. It is quite a depressing book (which is why our book club didn't like it) and the themes are challenging, but I like that in a book and I'd like to read more of this author.
It isn't really about a child going missing though; I thought the blurb was misleading on that front. It is more about the aftermath of a child going missing, and it is not about the search for the child.
Definitely worth reading depsite the very dull first chapter!
on 15 January 2007
Ian McEwan is like champagne. In fact not just any champagne, but the most expensive champagne on the menu. He is superior, he exudes class, and he is the preferred taste of the refined.
In simple terms A Child in Time is a novel about child abduction, and a parents response to that. At a deeper level the story is hinged upon the two key themes of childhood and time, and is laced with satirical observations of modern society. "In every child there is a hidden adult and in every adult there is a hidden child" is a pivotal observation placed early on in the novel and one which repeatedly returned to. There is Kate, the child that disappears one day in a supermarket and held forever more as a child in her parents minds as they are robbed of her future, Charles, the adult who regresses to childhood in a breakdown, the surreal experience that Stephen, the father, has of floating back in time watching his parents discuss whether or not to have him aborted. Time, McEwan is saying, is not a constant. Time is malleable.
The plot itself is by no means the defining reason for reading this book. Character development is not done by McEwan for its own sake and therefore you never feel particularly sympathetic towards any of his characters. In every character detail (and one thing that Ian McEwan is renowned for is his almost exhaustive attention to detail) there an agenda. Every action or experience of any character is related to a theme. Children. Time. Children. Time. Every sentence is cleverly carved for achieve maximum literary effect. Even the structure of the text has a purpose as the observant reader will notice clever shifts between conditional, perfect, and imperfect tenses to demonstrate passage or insurmountability of time.
Essentially then this novel is clever. The plot is middling, the characters are average. But the overall package is clever. My problem though with this book, and in fact with McEwan in general, I just don't always need clever. I don't need to be reading a book and pouncing on paragraphs spotting on literary devices. Sometimes I just want to be reading a book because quite simply I am desperate to know what happens at the end.
Which is the thing with champagne isn't it? You would almost never turn it down. You even feel a little bit special to be drinking it. It makes you feel worthy. Yet, just sometimes, maybe you don't want champagne, you just want half a lager.
on 11 February 2000
What a splendid read! The way McEwan weaves separate threads of plot into one beautifully integrated and very moving discourse on childhood and time, loss and rediscovery, made this the best book I have read in a long, long time.
on 20 November 2008
the child in time is a good example of what mcewan is all about. not the place to go for a gripping page turner, but thoroughly absorbing in every stroke of the pen.
mcewan is aware of the complexities of life, and through a linear medium is able to present a layered, textured, 3-dimensional portrayal of the situations under his attentive gaze, characterised by his micro-vision.
the child in the title is at once a central character, the nature of children and child rearing, and the child in all of us, as it comes and goes. similarly, the rest of the title refers to times in life and lifetimes, the particular time in our history, pure time in existence. (perhaps at the time of writing, 20 years younger, mcewan was more interested than he might be today, in questions of coincidence, serendipity, synchronicity and the like, laced with the mystical possibilities of the then new physics.) so the title itself is already a paradigm for the entire work and the method of working.
the writing is delightful; incisive and insightful, sympathetic and at times poetic.
an excellent introduction for newcomers and a treat for fans.
on 1 April 2012
The story has a simple premise with a complex message. The premise is that a father takes his child shopping and the child is abducted whilst in his care. In the years after the abduction, we follow the father in his grief. The way in which we interact with our everyday surroundings is explored and the way in which we conduct ourselves and our work is sometimes overlooked to fulfil our own needs, with no real thought about our actions on others. The protagonist is so wrapped up in his own grief, he neglects his wife's feelings and finds solitude in the bottle and the past. His wife who neglects her husband to find solitude in the countryside. A Prime Minister that is so obsessed with a colleague, he fails to see the moral needs of the country he serves. The friend who neglects his wife to reacquaint himself with his youth and his wife who is so obsessed with her work she lets him self destruct. At times the text is a lucid dream exploring our relationship with time and how it only has any real passage when attached to an event. The protagonist comes full circle having almost relived a second childhood and has a greater understanding of where he fits in to the world and how that impacts the people closest to him.
I enjoyed the simple approach in style. It wasn't overly fussy and sat nicely behind the protagonist. It would have been hard to tell that this wasn't a book set in our present, it was written in the late 80s with main events unfolding in the book at the turn of century. The politics the book describes were eerily familiar to today's politics in the UK. In fact, there were only a few things gave it away, for example, using a phone box and not a mobile phone and opening a train door when it is at the push of a button. Other than that I don't think we are too far away from a disenfranchised underclass, the melancholy of the middle class, licensed beggars and Victorian style handbooks for raising children.
A must read.